By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Kurt Beattie
ACT Theatre
700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101 / (206) 292-7676

Reviewed by Jerry Kraft

Imagine that every day of your life you woke up with absolutely no idea of who you are, where you are, how your got there, or what to do next. That's the premise of "Fuddy Meers", David Lindsay-Abaire's surreal and hilarious comedy with a decidedly dark side. Not only does poor Claire (?) wake up with total amnesia, but everyone she meets seems to be hiding a dangerous secret, involved in some vaguely threatening plan, or simply acting in utterly incomprehensible ways. It's a play that never has both feet on the ground, and it's as imaginative and inventive as it is disquieting and bizarre.

Director Kurt Beattie has loaded this production with a powerhouse cast, and his pace insures that plot surprises are genuinely surprising, sudden shifts in character seem probable, and the unfolding ramifications of the situation grow increasingly complex and intriguing. At times the frantic comedy distracts a bit from the sense of danger that should lurk just below the comic surface, but this bright entertainment is clever, expertly performed and neatly controlled.

As Claire, Cindy Basco has a kind of Donna Reed ingenuousness and naivete that makes her both innocent and endearing. Her immediate acceptance that she doesn't understand anything that's going on from the moment she wakes allows us to be equally open to each new' piece of information, each clue and misdirection, as it's revealed. Stephen Godwin, who presents himself as her husband, does a neat job of seeming both bland and vaguely inhuman, as if a department store mannequin was acting as her tour guide. His relationship with his pot-smoking, alienated teenage son (Tim Gouran) is full of creepy rationality barely hiding his seething contempt. The loose cannons on this deck where nothing is really secured are his limping, lisping brother (?),wonderfully played by R. Hamilton Wright, the amazingly bizarre Millet, with his alter-ego puppet, Mr. Binky, brilliantly performed by Peter Crook, and the speech-altered, stroke victim Grandmother (Lori Larson). Adding absolutely no security is the cop-girlfriend-co-conspirator played by Leslie Law. Like the chaos of lights hanging over Hugh Landwehr's inventive set, these bright and chaotic characters illuminate and confuse the stage with color and variety.

The production builds steadily, and as events become more and more blatantly comic, we also realize that there is a counterpoint of serious questions about how we perceive reality, about what it means when those we trust with essential information become unreliable, and about the ways in which we allow roles to take the place of individual character. What I felt was not as strong as it might have been was just that element of jeopardy implicit in no longer having any sort of grasp on what is true, and what is real. To be sure, the comedy was delightful, but it seems to me the journey of Claire through this particular looking-glass might have been a bit more frightful.

Nonetheless, "Fuddy Meers" is a theatrical motley that constantly entertains us with its outrageousness, while methodically leading us to ever more absurd situations and relationships. There is just enough of the familiar that we never lose our connection with these people, and just enough exaggeration that we laugh. With those tantalizing questions about what we think we know, how we trust our sources, and what really constitutes the fiction of our "real" lives, this is madcap comedy capable of drawing blood. Funny, fresh and intelligent, this is a smart evening of theatre aimed at an audience willing to wake up into a really new day, and try to learn everything they ever knew all over again.

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